Spotlight Album Review #11

Reviewed on this page:

Emmylou Harris has been an eminent figure in country music for over three decades. Supposedly "discovered" by the late Gram Parsons, her guest vocals on his two post-Burritos solo albums GP (1973) and Grievous Angel (1974) are part of the reason for those albums' classic status. Harris continued to use the Parsons aesthetic of "cosmic American music" in her long and distinguished recording career. Her 1995 album Wrecking Ball is regarded as a particularly bold experiment for the genre. In recent years, the gracefully aging songstress has remained on the cutting edge of progressive country, having recently worked with such contemporary artists as Ryan Adams and Bright Eyes.

Although the 1975 album Pieces Of The Sky is thought of as her debut album, Harris actually recorded her first LP in 1969, a few years before she met Parsons. Gliding Bird was originally released on a troubled record label called Jubilee, and was reissued in 1979 by the Emus label. It has been out of print for most of the years since. Harris herself says she is glad that the album is forgotten. Still, it isn't all that bad, even if it seems slight compared to her later work.

The many faces of Gliding Bird. l to r: two different-colored covers for the original Jubilee issue; the 1979 Emus reissue; the 1977 Pye reissue.

The conventional wisdom is that Harris was strictly a folksinger at the time she recorded the Gliding Bird album, having not yet been mentored by Gram Parsons in the ways of country music. But certain tracks on the album (especially the cover songs) do have an old-fashioned country flavor, which possibly was the reason that Parsons took an interest in her as a musical collaborator. The songs that Harris wrote (as well as the title track, which was written by her then-husband Tom Slocum) tend to follow a more straightforward folk direction. At this time, Harris had not yet fully developed her gifts for eloquent phrasing. But the natural loveliness of her voice distinguishes the material. Harris' five self-written compositions are not great examples of songwriting, but the closing track "Waltz Of The Magic Man" is a likably whimsical fairy tale, and her singing effectively sweeps the listener into the song's child-like fantasy world. The album's four cover songs could have been better chosen; Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" was a hit for Harry Nilsson around the time of this album's release, and Harris' rendition of it here suffers in comparison to Nilsson's better-known version. But, intentionally or not, Harris gives Bob Dylan's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" and Hank Williams' "I Saw The Light" a noticeable country feel, anticipating her future as a country star and as a celebrated interpretive singer. Gliding Bird is no great musical achievement in itself, but in hindsight it is a telling snapshot of an esteemed talent in her embryonic stages.

Notes: in addition to the 1979 reissue on the Emus label in the U.S., the album also was reissued in the U.K. on the Pye label in 1977, under the title The Legendary "Gliding Bird" Album. An alternate version of the song "Clocks" appears on Rhino's 2007 Harris box set Songbird: Rare Tracks And Forgotten Gems.

Track Listing:

1. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight -- (Bob Dylan)
2. Fugue For The Ox -- (Emmylou Harris)
3. I Saw The Light -- (Hank Williams)
4. Clocks -- (Harris)
5. Black Gypsy -- (Harris)
6. Gliding Bird -- (Tom Slocum)
7. Everybody's Talkin' -- (Fred Neil)
8. Bobbie's Gone -- (Harris)
9. I'll Never Fall In Love Again -- (Burt Bacharach/Hal David)
10. Waltz Of The Magic Man -- (Harris)


Other spotlight album reviews:

#1: Sigur Ros - "Von" (1997)

#2: Various Artists - "Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea" (1981)

#3: Gerry Goffin - "It Ain't Exactly Entertainment" (1973)

#4: Graces - "Perfect View" (1989)

#5: Genesis - "Calling All Stations" (1997)

#6: hindu love gods (1990)

#7: Various Artists - "Message To Love: The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970" (1996)

#8: Distractions - "Nobody's Perfect" (1980)

#9: Deconstruction (1994)

#10: Juicy Groove - "First Taste" (1978)

#12: Various Artists - "Beyond The Wildwood: A Tribute To Syd Barrett" (1987)

#13: Candy - "Whatever Happened To Fun..." (1985)

#14: RTZ - "Return To Zero" (1991)

#15: Klark Kent - "Kollected Works" (1995)

#16: Various Artists - "Rainy Day" (1984)

#17: Alex Chilton - "1970" (1996)

#18: Feist - "Monarch Lay Your Jewelled Head Down" (1999)

#19: Attila (1970)

#20: Slipknot - "Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat." (1996)

#21: Eyes Adrift (2002)

#22: Stoney and Meatloaf (1971)

#23: Elliott Murphy - "Aquashow" (1973)

#24: Evanescence - "Origin" (2000)